25 April 2013
Bujumbura – Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) recently launched a project to strengthen the international protection and human rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Burundi. Through the project, entitled PIDDAR*, more than 7,000 people will be better informed of their rights and will benefit from free legal aid, amongst other things.
Due to its geographical location, Burundi has been welcoming people in need of international protection for decades. “It’s the only country in the Great Lakes region to have an institution responsible for dealing with asylum issues”, explains Katia Urteaga Villanueva, ASF Head of Mission in Burundi. “Burundi has also ratified all relative conventions for refugees and has had a law in place for asylum and refugee protection since 2008.”
In reality, however, those eligible to apply for asylum do not necessarily know which procedure to follow. Furthermore, refugees are at greater risk of sexual violence and other violations of their rights than the rest of the population.
This is the case of Nathalie Yabidi, originally from DR Congo and a refugee in Burundi since 2006 (see small photo). “My husband had a Burundian mistress. She threatened me all the time, saying that I was only a poor refugee and that I had no rights in Burundi”, she tells. “One day, my husband hurt me. I fled the house. The people at the ASF legal aid office listened to my problems, and then accompanied me to the police station to press charges. My husband and his partner were summoned to explain their actions. Thanks to this support, the threats that I was subjected to stopped, and I now know that I have rights as a refugee.”
Nathalie’s case illustrates the need to improve access to justice for asylum seekers and refugees by offering them quality legal and judicial aid. “Our mission is to support people who are in need of international protection, both inside and outside of the refugee camps,” explains Axelle Nzitonda, coordinator of the PIDDAR project. “The asylum procedure must be accessible, the conditions for granting asylum guaranteed, and the legal difficulties experienced by refugees overcome.”
Thanks to this project, refugees and asylum seekers will be informed of their rights and duties as well as the asylum procedure itself. Free reception and orientation services and legal advice will be offered. Refugees and asylum seekers, who are victims of sexual violence or other violations of their rights, will be given legal aid in court. Finally, training on refugee rights will be organised for the authorities, the various police forces, as well as civil society and the media.
For a period of three years, the project will be co-financed by the European Union and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who is also partner in the project implementation. Other partners include the National Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless People, International Rescue Committee and other international organisations.
*PIDDAR = an acronym for “Protection Internationale et Droits des Demandeurs d’Asile et des Réfugiés” (International Protection and Rights of Asylum Seekers and Refugees)
Featured image: Congolese Refugee boys in Burundi © UNHCR/C.-L. Grayson